University ‘Discriminating Against Disabled Students’ By Charging For Assignment Extensions Due To Medical Needs

By Jenn Selby, Freelance News Editor 29 Apr 2019
Disability, Health

A university in England has been accused of discriminating against disabled students by charging them to take out long-term assignment extensions due to medical needs.

The University of Liverpool policy states that students face a fee for extending studies into a new academic year, regardless of whether or not there are extenuating circumstances, such as personal or health reasons, behind them doing so.

Speaking on the Victoria Derbyshire programme on Monday, students Kayley and Felicity said they were charged £50 for a three-month extension, which increased to £200 when they asked for a further extension. Both have a range of mental and physical conditions.

“I’ve not extended my studies because I want to have some more time to do my work. It’s because I need it,” Felicity told the presenter.

“It’s the one thing that would have made my life easier, given all the health problems I’ve got.

“I’m trying my hardest to finish my work as it is – which has been pretty difficult.”

What Was The University’s Response To The Claims?

Felicity said that she felt the charge was discriminatory, and that an extension could be considered a “reasonable adjustment”, which, under the Equality Act 2010, the university is legally required to implement.

The university responded to Felicity and Kayley’s claims, saying that it had “received a number of short-term coursework extensions as reasonable adjustments”.

Image credit: the University of Liverpool/Flickr

It added that Kayley was not registered as disabled at the university, noting: “In line with university policy, a £50 tuition fee charge is applied for each three-month extension period, which covers access to study services as well as tuition and supervision.

“We are reviewing this policy.”

How Does The Equality Act 2010 Protect Students Against Discrimination?

Under the Equality Act 2010, all public bodies that receive government funding, like universities, must ensure that practices and policies are free from discrimination.

The Act protects students at public universities in England, Scotland and Wales from discrimination and harassment based on certain “protected characteristics”.

The protected characteristics for the further and higher education institutions provisions are:

  • Age
  • Disability
  • Gender reassignment
  • Pregnancy and maternity
  • Race
  • Religion or belief
  • Sex
  • Sexual orientation

Marriage and civil partnership is not listed as a protected characteristic, but the Act does provide protection against discrimination on this basis with regards to further and higher education.

What About Disabled Students?

Under government guidance on the Equality Act 2010 in relation to higher education, “an institution must not treat you unfavourably because of something connected to your disability where they cannot show that what they are doing is objectively justified.”

“This only applies if the organisation knew or could reasonably have been expected to know that you are a disabled person. An organisation does not have to know that a person meets the legal definition of ‘a disabled person’, just that he or she has an impairment which is likely to meet the definition.”

Main image credit: Felicity and Kayley – BBC screen shot/Victoria Derbyshire